So now, it is 2009 and we've had another full day with lots of walking. We went back to St. Paul's cathedral during its open time and got in to see everything. The first St. Paul's was on this spot for 600 years but was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. The new cathedral was designed and built by Christopher Wren who included in the design a great dome which was very unusual at that time (editorial note: but it doesn't have anything on Brunelleschi's dome!) :) It's a beautiful cathedral - the altar reminded me of the altar in St. Peter's in Rome. There is an American Memorial Chapel which honors the 28,000 Americans who died while based in England. We climbed the 259 steps to the first level of the dome known as the Whispering Gallery because if you face the wall and whisper to someone all the way across on the other side, they can hear you!!! Then we climbed another 119 steps on a narrow winding staircase to the outside terrace and found a wonderful view of the city. Chris was disappointed that the remaining 152 steps to the very top were closed, but I wasn't! (And I just Googled and found a nice view of the Lady Chapel ceiling so you can get an idea of how beautiful it is. )
We had lunch at a cafe right near the cathedral and it was one of our two best lunches of the whole trip. I had a toasted brie cheese with roasted veggies on an incredible baguette. Then split a brownie that had an very thin crackly crust on top...oh my goodness!
We then walked across the Thames on the Millenium Bridge which is for pedestrian traffic only and that was neat to be walking across the Thames. You get off the bridge right in front of the Tate Modern so we went in to see what was there. Modern art is often times not my favorite although I can usually find pieces that appeal to me. But this museum just really left me cold. I didn't like the building in the first place. It was an electrical power plant to begin with and was just basically quite unattractive. And the stuff in it was really over the top. Neither one of us enjoyed it, so at least I didn't have to feel like it was just me being an old "fuddy-dud".
We left there and walked to the Southwark Cathedral, passing that reconstruction of the Globe Theater on the way. (My notes here say that this is an exact replication built "near" the original site in 1993.) We also passed that Anchor Pub and the Golden Hind; the site of Clink Prison which was in use from 1127 to 1780 and according to the guidebook was where the various bishops of Winchester stowed anyone who got in their way. The whole area still has a fairly dismal and foreboding aspect but it's now used for trendy offices and such. We passed the Borough Market which was closed and I had really wanted to get a look at that. It dates back to at least 1014!
We reached Southwark Cathedral which is the oldest Gothic church in the City of London. Its history begins in the 7th century(!) and it has, of course, been rebuilt - once in the 850's and again in the 1150's. Parts of the current structure date back to 1250. And I don't know why I don't have any pictures of that. I certainly enjoyed seeing it but maybe it was too dark or something...
We took the tube to St. Pancras station. Chris wanted to see that because it's being restored to its former glory. The embarkation area, which is huge, is pretty much finished and wonderful, but the rest of the building is covered in scaffolding. It will truly be something to see when it's finished.
This time for dinner, we chose Bella Italia, right next to the Chinese restaurant and it was delicious! (it was Italian - what would one expect?)
Friday, January 2 was another cold and cloudy day. First off, we visited the Wallace Collection and the Soane Museum, two wonderful and totally different collections amassed by two very rich and also, apparently, totally different men.
The Wallace Collection was just one beautiful, delightful thing after another. Room after room. In one room they had cases filled with exquisitely carved "bas-relief wax very small plaques. There was beautiful furniture, paintings, rooms full of armor and all housed in a gorgeous home.
John Soane's Museum on the other hand was wonderful mainly because it was SO bizarre! The collection is housed in two townhouses and the building itself is fantastic - tiny nooks and crannies everywhere, narrow passageways you have to sidle through, rooms with half walls where you look down into other rooms below. Half of what Mr. Soane collected looks like junk, half of it is pretty impressive and stuck down in the cellar (visible from the floor above) is the sarcophagus of Seti I!! How he got it, transported it, and got it into the cellar one can't imagine, but there it sits. Seems like the British Museum would be foaming at the mouth to get it. All in all, a truly interesting visit - one could poke around for quite a while in this museum.
Our next stop was the British Library and we took the honest-to-goodness red double decker bus to get there. I think one reason we chose buses was cause I was about done in going up and down flights and flights of stairs for the tube stations!
The library is huge and we could certainly have used more time there, but we did get to go through the room where their most treasured documents, books, music, and such are kept and that was thrilling. Saw musical scores of Mozart and hand-written lyrics of the Beatles. A Gutenburg bible and the oldest known printed book which was a Chinese book printed in the 600's. Many, many beautiful examples of illuminated texts and, of course, one of the four known copies of the Magna Carta from 1215. Unfortunately, they closed at 5:00 so we were unable to visit any of the other exhibits.
For dinner, we tried to find a street our friendly pub guy had told us about that supposedly had like 40 Indian/curry places to eat. We thought it was Brick Street but when we got there it wasn't and someone there told us it was Brick Lane which was clear across the city. So tired and hungry, we headed back to Bayswater, found an Indian restaurant right there on the same street as the Italian and Chinese and it was very good!
That brings us to Saturday, our last full day in London. We had decided Friday that we would split up for Saturday cause Chris thought he might go to Bath and I didn't want to do that in the cold. So I planned what I wanted to do and then mapped it out on the tube map to see if I could figure out how to get around. Chris checked it all out and I had it right! That was encouraging. :) But Chris decided he wouldn't go to Bath either and would, instead, go to Westminster Abbey with me and, once there, we'd split up and go our separate ways, meeting back at the British Museum (where I was headed after the abbey at 5:00).
I had left Westminster Abbey until the last day cause I just didn't seem to be real excited about seeing it. Was much more interestested in seeing the British Museum. But I am so glad I went there. I said Greenwich was one of my favorites - the Abbey was far and away my most thrilling experience of the whole trip. It is so old and so incredibly filled with history that it had a tremendous impact on me. And the fact that it's still an active church intensified that feeling. I loved Rome and seeing all the ancient ruins, but they were ruins. At the abbey, you see the ancient oaken coronation chair first used in 1308 and used for every coronation since (the very first coronation in the Abbey took place in 1066!) and then you read that the Queen Mother's funeral was conducted here in 2002. Absolutely incredible. And, beyond that, it's a breathtakingly beautiful building. There's a Lady Chapel with a coffered ceiling that is spectacular - no frescoes, no gold or elaborate carvings, just a beautifully intricate series of buttresses and arches in plain white stone that ends up looking almost lace-like. And the people who are buried there!! Everyone who was anyone from kings and queens to musicians, poets, authors...absolutely a visit not to be missed.
I finally pulled myself away and started on my solo trip to the British Museum. The route from the Abbey to the tube station that I had mapped out was blocked because of some huge protest march that was on its way. The protest was against the bombing of the Gaza strip by the Israelis and I wish I could have found out how many people were involved - it had to be thousands. So I had some trouble getting to the tube station, but finally managed it and was quite pleased that I didn't freak out or anything - that boded well for traveling by myself in the future. I got on the right train, got off at the right stop, found about 5 streets to choose from when I got up from the station, but asked someone which one to use and got myself to the museum.
The museum is so large that several days could easily be spent there. But I did have a list of specific things I wanted to see while I was there (thanks to Pauline Frommer's guidebook "London for Less" - a great book) and I managed to get to all of them, even though as I sought them out, I kept getting waylaid by all the wonderful rooms full of various artifacts.
I took a bunch of pictures but very few of them turned out to be worth looking at which was a disappointment.
These were two sort of storage areas which tickled me because of course everything was just kind of dumped around but was all pretty much priceless.
When Chris and I met up, we decided we'd go to the Anchor Inn for dinner since it's so historic and it was neat inside because it was all broken up with various levels, little rooms, bigger rooms and such. It did seem old. I decided to finally have fish and chips (as did Chris) and mine was pretty awful - the crust was really tough - I had to actually cut it with a knife. Chris's was fine for some reason - nice and tender. Oh, and it was served with mushy peas (which I've seen reference to in various British novels I've read) which turn out to be canned peas slightly smashed. How exciting is that?!
But I guess two pretty disappointing dinners and one very bad lunch (at the museum) isn't too bad.
And that pretty much wraps up the trip. Sunday we got ourselves packed up and to the airport on time. As I said at the beginning, we were on a double-decker plane with not one empty seat which really made me wonder how it ever gets up in the air. But it did and managed to get all the way back to New York.
August 3, 2010 - I have to say I don't know that I'd ever make another trip to London. It is just so vastly huge and so full of people that it really overwhelmed me. To be there by myself I just can't quite imagine. Florence is so contained and the historic center of the city is completely walkable from one end to the other with hardly any trouble - maybe a wrong turn now and then, but just so do-able. But I also have to say that I think one reason Westminster Abbey stunned me SO much was because it's history (and actually pretty much England's history) is so continuous. With Italy (and Florence) I don't even begin to understand their history. Sometimes all the regions seemed to be separate countries, sometimes Florence rules, other times other of the Italian cities ruled, shoot - for a while Napoleon ruled which I sure hadn't realized. But with England, they've had various royal families (I know the Tudors and the Windsors and there were probably more I'm not knowing), but they were all pretty much ruling the same area and the history just seems to be this fairly continuous ribbon unfolding. So that's appealing, at least to me. And I wouldn't mind at all another visit to Great Britain - some of the other cities - Oxford, Cambridge; some of the different areas - the Cotswolds, the moors; and I think I'd like to see some of Scotland and Wales too...but for now, I'll say good night!
- Mary Lynne
- West Virginia
- When I started my retirement travels - the first of which was my solo overseas trip to Italy in 2009 - I wanted a way to share it with family and friends as it happened. Hence, "My Travel Journal". However I realized I wouldn't always be on a trip and wondered what to do with the blog in between times. My daughter pointed out, wisely, that travels can also include trips to the kitchen to try a new recipe, trips to visit family, trips to my neighborhood Starbucks, or a fun day trip with a friend. You're welcome to join me on any of these journeys!
P.S. I've set up separate pages for each of my major trips (see tabs above).
I recently added an "Italian Word a Day" thingie which shows up at the bottom of every page. You see the word and can click to hear it pronounced. I've been enjoying it and I think my accent is improving as time goes by.